Thursday, 22 November 2012

The Doodlebug Dance

One good Alistair Sim film deserves another.  And after ear-wigging on someone else's Twitter conversation I was reminded of an old favourite - 'Green For Danger'.  Again, the full film is available on You Tube and is well worth a view.  If you don't know the film, but you do know your 1930s/40s film actors, here's how to be thoroughly surprised.  Don't watch the opening credits.  But when Joe Higgins, the Postman, appears have a good look at him.  Who do you think is playing him?  Have a guess and look for Joe Higgins in the closing credits.  The transformation from the character that he is most well known for is amazing.

'Green for Danger' was made in 1946 and is a murder mystery.  On the face of it, a straightforward bit of entertainment.  But there are oddities.  First of all it's a serious film, but Sim often plays his character for laughs.  Then, there is the constant presence of the flying bombs or Doodlebugs as they were nicknamed.  I'm not really sure why these things need to keep re-appearing after the first one has done it's damage and launched the storyline.

Officially called V1 and later V2 rockets, the Doodlebugs appeared towards the end of the Second World War.  They were in effect pilotless planes packed with explosives.  They were launched from continental Europe towards south eastern England, and when the fuel ran out, the engine cut and the rocket plummeted to earth, causing devastation.  Accounts from the time tell of the kind of fear that they caused, that listening with breath held for the engine to splutter out.  This is well illustrated in the film as Joe Higgins listens in the bunker and braces himself for the blast.  I think that the Doodlebugs were much more sinister than the Luftwaffe.  They were impersonal  with their lack of a human pilot.  I think that if I were experiencing that kind of warfare, I would have preferred to have been bombed by a human.  Not only were the Luftwaffe targeting infrastructure as a priority; there was the potential for human error - that they might miss your city altogether or even that the bomber might make a decision that ultimately saves you.  Unlikely I know, but with people involved you have that little sliver of hope.  With the Doodlebugs, it was simply a case of if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time, you've had it.  Because the V weapons could be launched at any time without risk to a pilot, they came over in the day time, when people were going about their business.  You could sleep the night away in an underground shelter, but you have to go out at some point in the daytime to work or shop.  People fell victim while working, shopping and just walking down the street.

Back in the film, Sim seems to use the sudden need to take shelter from Doodlebugs to comic effect.  He is repeatedly shown dithering outside potential shelters or diving to the ground in a kind of dance.  Well, it's comical to us now.  But I wonder if the 1946 audience would view it in the same way.  To them, it might simply have been a harking back to 12-18 months ago and how their lives were then.  It could all be for dramatic effect - this pernicious threat of death from an invisible source, that even he who is meant to be controlling it is at a loss of what to do next.  Is Sim the comic relief - or are we a completely changed audience?  To really find out, we would need to return to that situation of daily threat of death from the skies.  I hope that this film remains a delightful little mystery to us.

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